Thread: Western Ethics vs Buddhist Ethics

  1. #1

    Western Ethics vs Buddhist Ethics

    Soto Zen teacher Brad Warner talks about Western Ethics vs Buddhist Ethics for approx.10minutes.




    Any thoughts about what he said ?



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    As easy as it is to find differences in terminology and approach when comparing various systems of ethics, I think one of the commonalities between eastern and western and ethics is an underlying foundation of harmlessness. I think this can clearly be seen in things like the Buddhist precepts and Christian commandments/Sermon on the Mount, and most ethical systems on both sides of the east/west divide. And I personally haven't found it too terribly difficult to discuss their similarities or differences in western terminology and vice versa.

    That said, I found the Dogen quote interesting. I'm not sure all Buddhists would agree with this idea, especially, say, Theravadins who adhere to the Abhidhamma and commentarial literature, but I think it's an interesting POV to take and I'm curious how he'd go about explaining these differences in more detail and specifically how this approach impacts one's practice.

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    From a western POV, for example, I'd say Buddhist ethics are not unlike what we'd call virtue ethics.

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    Speaking of ethics more generally, I think that each system of ethics has its pros and cons and those often depend on how one grasps them, much like the proverbial snake. For example, if one views pain as ever-present and that even a staff touching the earth caused pain, one could use this idea of be more conscious of every action we take with a view to limit that pain and possibly seek to transcend it, which I think is a skillful approach to it. But this could be grasped inappropriately and taken to the extreme of, say, doing nothing to the point of suicide by starvation, much how certain Jains were said to do so out of their exteme understanding of the concept of harmlessness.

    Or on the other end of the spectrum, one could say that, since pain is ever-present, one can't eliminate pain or prevent it by one's actions, so morality doesn't really matter. If me simply walking causes pain, then what's the difference between walking and kicking a dog if they both cause pain? That's probably not what Dogen means, but I definitely think one can hold any ethical code in a way that's unskillful and can bite one in the hand. Nevertheless, I do think that Buddhist ethics in general do a good job of presenting themselves in a practical way that seeks to avoid such extremes and mishandling.
    Last edited by Jason; 29 Jun 20 at 06:27.

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    If we think blindly grasping at any code or prinicple will bring peace we will only suffer if something happens that challenges it, as Ajahn Chah says thinking that just holding onto the precepts will bring one to peace is just grasping at rights and rituals which is one of the fetters that prevents one from entering the stream. Pain is inevitable but creating more suffering out of it is optional if we learn to master it.

    Even pain itself can the medium of change if we view it skillfully. This maybe the Taoist influence on Zen (but the form of early Buddhism that entered China was seen as "foreign" Taosim by the locals of the time). But as Buddhists I think we should be like water and know how to just flow around an obstruction. Fight by not fighting. Dance without dancing. As Dearest Esho said in another thread behave just because. But then again if pain is not the self who or what is experiencing it? Perhaps it is just the delusion of the sense of self getting caught up in the appearance of it. Back to just being mindful and letting go to some degree.
    Last edited by Traveller; 29 Jun 20 at 03:35.

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    I look at Buddhist ethics from a different point of view. What if the natural state of human beings is to be cooperative and not wishing to cause harm? That this is a fall-back position somewhat nullified by the socialisation process as we grow up, but that it can be regained by meditation and the processes leading to enlightenment? Let me take this further and suggest that enlightenment is rediscovering this fall-back position. What would you understand at this point? That the way to live is by not harming as far as possible? How would such a person see their life previous to the enlightenment experience? The things they have done unknowingly?

    Lots of questions but leading to my point of view. Such socialisation leads to clinging to ideas which hold us back from making progress towards enlightenment. Not only that but when you have gone through enlightenment experiences, you don't feel quite as bad when looking back at your life up to this point. Buddhist ethics can then be seen as protecting you as well as other living things (or even non-living things). There is an element of PTSD when going through insight experiences. Ethics will help you come to terms with it and protect you from the worst of looking back.

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